Caleb Caudle’s latest outing, Better Hurry Up, could be the best of his career– and that’s not hyperbole. The North Carolina native found himself surrounded by heroes and world-class talent, sonically sheltered in Johnny Cash’s private studio, and rising to meet the occasion. Continuing with the signature smooth style of Carolina Ghost and Crushed Coins, these new songs come across as lived-in, cultivated, and pulsing with rhythm and soul. Better Hurry Up arrives on April 3rd, but you can hear it LIVE when Caleb Caudle returns to The Creek Stage on Thursday, March 26th.
AI- I have to ask you what it was like to be in the Cash Cabin?
CC- It was everything you would want it to be. It just felt cozy. It felt like home immediately when you walk in there. I think there’s just a really heavy vibe and it just feels really like a good place to make music.
You got to play one of [Johnny’s] guitars through the whole process. Which one was it?
I played his pre-war Martin. He cut a lot of the American Recordings on that one. Just really, really cool. Kind of like a small body parlor-type guitar. Sounded like a million bucks. I also played one of his Gibson’s. It’s called a Nick Lucas. They’re both from the ’30s. I mean, they both just sound amazing. Pretty wild man!
Your last record, Crushed Coins, part of that record felt like an extension of Carolina Ghost, but a lot of it felt kinda experimental sonically and lyrically. With Better Hurry Up, these songs feel much more deliberate. Does that come from the sum of its parts– including all the guests, John Jackson, your producer, all of that– or is it more of an extension of where you’re at right now as an artist?
I think it all plays into it. It is where I’m at, and it was such a fun record to make because you don’t have to tell anybody what to do. You just play your songs and they’re gonna put whatever they’re going to put on there– and it’s like nothing I can tell them will be better than what they’re already gonna do. It probably feels deliberate because of that reason. There’s a confidence that comes along with playing with that caliber of musician and just getting to be yourself and you’re just sitting there playing the songs and everybody’s just working around you.
Without jumping into too much name-droppin’, was it one of those situations where you were able to have everybody visit you at the cabin as opposed to doing things remotely?
For the most part, people came to the cabin. I think a couple people had to fly parts in. I know Mickey [Raphael] was on tour with Willie Nelson, so he had to fly his part in and maybe, I think Gary Lewis flew his part in, but for the most part, people were coming out there. People like working out there, so [that] kinda plays into it.
How did you get hooked up in that room? Was it just a, “Hey I can so I will,” or did somebody bring it up?
You mentioned John Jackson from the Jayhawks produced the record and he had worked out there a couple of different times I think but never produced a record. He’d been out there with Loretta Lynn and a couple other people. But he just mentioned it. We were throwin’ around a lot of names, a lot of different studios are great in town and when he said Cash Cabin, I had not even thought of that ’cause it’s such a private place and it’s removed. You know what I mean? It’s like a very private studio. So I just didn’t know that we had access to that. And once I did, I was just kinda like, “Yeah, let’s do it there. It seems perfect!”
One of the aspects of the record, and it’s talked about in some of the writeups that I’ve seen already, but when you sit down and listen to it, it is really apparent– that Tulsa Sound influence. The Leon Russell, the JJ Cale and of course, you were able to have Dennis Crouch on bass. Is that something that you’ve just kinda been into lately? And then having Dennis around, was it just like, “Yes, now we can take this to that level?”
Well, man, I’ve always liked Leon and I’ve always liked JJ Cale, but I never did a deep dive until a few years back. And then me and Dennis, we had cut some demos together and I just loved the way he played. And honestly, I came in there blind to who he was. We were just cuttin’ demos in a garage over at this studio in Nashville, and he didn’t even say his last name. I didn’t know it was Dennis Crouch (laughs)! I just knew he was really good! So when we were leaving, he just told me, he said, “Hey, you got any more songs?” And I said, “Yeah, I do,” and he said, “Alright, well, just send them over.” And so we kinda got to be friends through that. He helped me and my wife move into our house here in Nashville and then we’ve cut the record, so we just got to be good friends. And, man, he is the guy for the job, let me tell you!
Let’s talk about that move to Nashville. What made that finally time? Do you feel closer to the music and to the industry?
Yeah, I mean, you can’t really escape it. You go to the Kroger and you see a Grammy winner! It’s been really cool in a lot of ways. We had a lot of friends here, and we were coming to Nashville so much that we just felt like it was time to be there because we were endin’ tours in North Carolina and then driving to Nashville just for meetings and stuff. So now it’s kind of the other way around. We’re endin’ tours in Nashville, drivin’ to North Carolina to see our family (laughs)! But it’s funny how that works.
One of the songs on the record, “Regular Riot”, fantastic… Russ Pahl, that is him on the pedal steel on that track?
It is, yeah!
Absolutely amazing! But the other amazing thing about that song– did I read that that was actually your very first co-write? With Natalie Hemby of all folks?
Yep. It was my first one ever.
How’d you get this far along… I mean, good first one to have!
Yeah, I’d just never really done it because I was kind of off in North Carolina and I just wasn’t really over here as much. I opened up a show at 3rd and Lindsley for Natalie, and she told me after the show, she said she’d like to be my first co-write if I ever was interested. So yeah, we wrote that one and since then I wrote a song with John Carter Cash. So I got two co-writes now!
No kiddin’? You got plans to do more of that? Have you gotten a taste for it?
I think when it feels right. I don’t think I’d ever be all right with being in a room of people for other people or something like that. But if it’s one on one and I really love the songwriter, I think it works really good. You can come up with something great.
Tell me about working with John Jackson in his role as producer.
I met John in New York. He came to one of my shows there and he had told me that our buddy, Aaron Lee Tasjan, turned him on to me. He said, “I’m John, I play in the Jayhawks.” I was like, “The Jayhawks, man! I’d have put you on the guestlist if I had known that!” I’m just such a huge fan! He asked me if I wanted to send some demos and I started sending him some stuff and we kind of started talking about some records he had done. He did a couple Ray Davies records that I really liked. We just kind of really hit it off, and we started formin’ a plan to make the record. He brought along the cabin and he helped get Mickey on board and probably I think he helped get Pat Sansone from Wilco on board and a couple of other people. So it just really came together. It was honestly the easiest record I’ve ever made. I feel lucky.
There’s 11 tracks on Better Hurry Up, but the preview track that everybody got to hear before anything else was your cover of a Hank Williams’ “Howlin’ at the Moon. Now that’s not on the record, but it made me curious to know how many other songs did you cut while you were at Cash Cabin?
We cut “Howlin’ at the Moon, which we already released and then there was one other song that I really liked how it turned out, I just couldn’t find a place where it fit on the record very well. We’ll probably put that one out at some point. It came out really good, I just kinda got to figure out when to release it.
What was it?
It’s called “Oh My Goodness Gracious”.
Is that a Caleb Caudle original?
We’ll keep our ears open for it. You brought your family down [to Cash Cabin]… That was a surprise. Were you just bringing them down and they thought they were just going to come see the studio?
Was your family a Johnny Cash household as well? Was it like a pilgrimage of sorts?
Of course. I knew that it would be a special treat for them. They had never come to see me in the studio and workin’ in the studio before. So I thought, “What better place? If you can take them to one place, that would be it!” And so yeah, they came in there and my wife brought ’em out and then they’re sittin’ there and I said, “Well, it’s your turn to sing!” And they didn’t know that they were doing that (laughs)! They looked a little shocked, but I heard them singin’ in church growin’ up, so I knew they’d handle the job– and they did a great job!
I know the album comes out April 3rd. You’re going to be here on March 26th. Will you have copies available for purchase at that point?
Absolutely. Yeah, we’ll have ’em through the first part of this tour, even before the record comes out.
Fantastic. I actually had an opportunity to speak to the Wild Ponies last week, Doug and Telisha, and they’re excited and had so many great things to say about you. And I said to ’em, “So I’m talking to Caleb next week. Tell me somethin’ silly to ask him.” And they laughed at me for a minute and said, “Ask him if he’s got a buckeye in his pocket.”
(Laughs) I love those guys! We grew up very, very close. I don’t know if they told you that, but I mean less than 30 minutes away or so. But we didn’t meet until we were both here at Nashville. But yeah, it’s funny ’cause the regional traditions– carrying a buckeye in your pocket– that’s just something both of our grandparents always did. It’s really funny ’cause to be here in Nashville when I talk to them, it feels like being back home.